“That’s enough, Carson. Put the brush away. There’s no more lint on any of us.” CJ marveled at his former college classmate’s dedication and attention to detail. Carson Sawyer had served him well as chief of staff—a role the man was about to reprise—and more recently as campaign manager. Unmarried, Sawyer’s focus was on his job twenty-four hours a day. He followed CJ to Havana when the man was appointed U. S. ambassador to Cuba. Returning to Washington, Carson served his friend through two elections and a little over one term as the District’s mayor. He reprised his role in New York during CJ’s time as ambassador to the United Nations. His tenure as gatekeeper to the President of the United States began today.
“Sorry, Mr. President, but it’s my job to ensure you all look your best. How will you be recognized as America’s most photogenic family again if I don’t pay attention to the little things?” Along with the expanding waistline, Carson had developed a deep familiarity with the Abellós over the years spent with CJ. He knew what buttons to push to calm or get a rise out of his boss. Today, he was being playful; everyone knew CJ hated looks-based popularity. Even if it was one of the reasons he had won the election.
“Let him be, Ceej. Don’t be a pain. Jeffer and I are going to miss this kind of TLC at Annapolis. Let us enjoy it while we can.” High school seniors, Roosevelt and Jefferson Abelló paid more attention to their appearance than either of their fathers ever did. They did a final modeling shoot prior to the campaign going into high gear and bitterly complained when told they could not strut catwalks or book additional photo sessions before the election. Although they did not need the money, they thrived on the attention.
“Watch your mouth, middie. Are you forgetting who you’re talking to? That’s ourCommander-in-Chief.” Owen tried not to laugh—mock stern was not his strong suit. “I swear the two of you primp more than your sister does. Why can’t you be more relaxed like her?”
CJ tried to disguise his smirk by turning and coughing. After all their years together, Owen still took his breath away. He anticipated celebrating their twenty-fifth anniversary while residing in the White House and had promised this was the last dance. It was to be his final effort at following the advice he gave his classmates when he spoke at his college commencement: remain involved and help your fellow men. Once his term was over, they would travel and enjoy spending as much time together as possible.
Owen was the one person who saw CJ without the public mask. He knew the man about to become the most powerful person in the world best. Love and trust defined their relationship.
Through all the jobs and the necessary moves, Owen never complained and never failed to be CJ’s staunchest supporter. If there was one aspect of their lives the Aussie at times questioned, it was how they had raised their children. Intelligence, wealth, and physical beauty the kids had handled well, but their personalities were too damn close to their parents. The youngsters’ banter echoed the way the two fathers interacted with the rest of the extended family.
“Leave me out of it, Oz.” Elizabeth Abelló, a Georgetown University student planning on law school after graduation, had thrown her own tantrum earlier. “I’m still upset. Fabricio should be in here with us.”
“I thought we settled this, Liebe. Your boyfriend’s right out there, and you’ll see him soon enough. Stop acting like a petulant child.” Although both fathers enforced rules and administered discipline, CJ was the one the kids preferred not to anger. That revelation made by their daughter during an interview the previous year led to Owen calling CJ the ogre for a while. “This is family time. Don’t forget you’re in charge of your little brother this morning.”
“I don’t need no one to watch me, Papi.” Davenport Liston Abelló—ten years younger than his sister—had been the center of Liebe’s world from the day he had been adopted as a newborn. Her maternal instincts flourished under the watchful eyes of female relatives. “I can take care of myself like I did last summer in Australia. Liebe, Roo, and Jeffer were only there for like a week.”
All four children grew up spending portions of their summer vacations in the Hunter Valley at the Liston family compound. The previous year, in the heat of the presidential campaign, his sister and brothers insisted on traveling the United States with their fathers. To them, it was an adventure; for CJ and Owen, it was a nightmare. Supervising three teenagers while attending endless meetings and rallies was not something either one of them enjoyed.
“We know, Davey.” Owen squatted in front of his son and adjusted the boy’s necktie. “But you know this is a very important day, and we have to follow the plans. As soon as the photographer gets here and snaps a few pictures, you guys can go outside. You’ll go first and sit next to Grandpa César and Grandpa Brett. Okay?”
“Speaking of Fabricio, check it out. The camera’s on him and his dad.” Although the sound was off, CJ knew commentators would be introducing important guests to the worldwide viewership. “Thiago looks happy. He’s going to make a great Secretary of Veterans Affairs.” For a man who was never in the military, Thiago Baravento had become an indefatigable champion for anyone separated from service. “Can somebody turn up the volume? I want to hear what they say about Harley.”
“Of course, Katie. President Elect Abelló has said in countless interviews that these two men were the ones he first met and associated with in high school. The nucleus of what evolved into the now famed CJ’s Squad. The group of Millennials who’s about to take over the West Wing.”
“True, but the appointment of Harley Wilkinson as Administrator of the Small Business Administration was still fraught with controversy. You may recall the pundits had him pegged as our next ambassador to Vietnam. Since his wife’s family hails from the country, many predicted that was where the couple would end. What they called ‘a cushy job handed out to a longtime friend.’ I have the feeling his performance will surprise many.”
“They didn’t take into account President Elect Abelló would want to keep his closest associates in Washington. I’m not so sure an appointment of Mr. Wilkinson to any governmental post would have been a simple handout. After all, the man has proven he’s a savvy businessman. He did rise from being a mechanic to owning the best-known motorcycle custom shop in the United States.”
“Which he started with a loan from his friend’s family.”
“While attending school at night to obtain a business degree. Now, if you want to talk about a controversial appointment, the man sitting next to Mrs. Wilkinson was at the center of the biggest—”
“Okay, you can mute it. I don’t need to hear about Ethan and Sean again.” CJ recalled how his fathers and Carson had been the only ones in the transition team not opposed to the appointment of Ethan Feldman as Solicitor General. Then again, Carson and Ethan were both Squad members; there was zero chance of those men not supporting each other. Sean Brody’s past as a sex worker titillated the public for weeks, but CJ stood his ground, and Ethan’s brilliance took center stage in time. A grin crossed his face. Wait until the pundits found out Ethan would be his first appointment to the Supreme Court.
“Hey, guys,”—Brad opened the door after two quick knocks—“this is your make-up artist. The photographer’s here too.” The official White House photographer had told them there would be no posed pictures this morning. He asked them to ignore his presence as he clicked away.
“Uncle Brad, can you make sure nobody takes my seat next to Fabricio?” Liebe had not been happy when her fathers requested Brad Kennedy be appointed head of her Secret Service protection detail.
Her cousin, Carolina Prado, was even less so. After all, the two women were best of friends, spent much of their time together, and no one freshly out of their teens wants to go out trailed by bodyguards. Particularly when one of them is the man you call dad.
“Really, Liebe?” Brad’s incredulous face elicited grins from everyone in the room. “There’s not a single human alive who would dare take your seat. They’re all scared as fuck you’d beat the shit out of them.” The man had gained his ward’s trust when he found her on her knees pleasuring her boyfriend and kept his mouth shut. She was flabbergasted when she told CJ about what had happened and realized her father had no idea Brad had stumbled upon her.
“Hey! Language, Red. Not in front of the children.” This time, Owen was able to deliver his line without laughing.
“Really, Ozzie?” The hands on the hips and the frown may have been what kept Brad from cracking up. “Have you ever heard a conversation between your children? Cristina and I blame our kids’ foul mouths on their cousins.”
“Duuude, like, what the fff… frick?” Jefferson glanced at his fathers out of the corner of his eye. He had almost broken one of the cardinal rules. Swearing was prohibited when non-family members were present. Brad was family, but the photographer was not.
“Really, Jeffer?” Third time was the charm. Agent Kennedy lost it. The laughter was rich and deep. It came from a man who loved life. “I’m just glad I got Liebe and get to stay in Washington. I pity the agents assigned to your detail. If there’s a way to get into trouble at the Naval Academy, the two of you will—” The comment died when he noticed the man on the monitor. “Hey, somebody turn up the volume. It’s Paddy.”
“No surprise that Father Patrick Kennedy’s delivering the invocation today. Or that he’s been selected as White House Chaplain. He’s the only cleric who could have convinced our next president to attend this morning’s moving prayer service.”
“Excellent point, Katie. It was in character for Mr. Abelló to tinker with tradition by moving the event to the National Cathedral and opening it to the public.”
“That’s right, Peter. Some assumed he would skip it, but since the Episcopal priest is a member of his cabal, those of us aware the two have been friends for over a quarter century were not surprised.”
“Let’s not forget Father Kennedy headed the religious leaders’ group who pledged their support for the presidential candidate in spite of his well-known dislike of organized religion.”
The camera pulled back to show Patrick, his husband, and their kids embrace Chipper.
“His sons, Boston and Tokyo, are part of the twenty-odd youngsters we suspect will spend a lot of time in the White House. They may be at the core of a Junior Squad. Along with the President Elect’s children, his niece and nephew, Scooter and Springer Wilkinson, Gamon and Benjamin Mookjai, Carolina Prado and—
“Speaking of The Squad, there’s a fifth member. Cristiano Humberto Israel Pereira, Jr.—that name’s a mouthful, no wonder he goes by Chipper—electrified the crowd during the concert at the Lincoln Memorial a couple of days ago.”
“I’m certain the reaction was the same wherever on the planet his fans watched. After all, he’s been one of the world’s top recording artists for years. I look forward to hearing his rendition of the national anthem.”
“And I’m pretty sure he’s the only person who could challenge the President Elect in popularity right now. His upcoming residency in Las Vegas sold out months before he first steps on that stage. In contrast, the man now standing behind him has always kept a low profile.”
“As we would expect from the next Director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation. Although Lincoln Duvall Erickson has a sterling reputation within the FBI, his single brush with fame came on the heels of the incident in Mexico City.”
“The same event that supposedly solidified his position as the oldest and last individual accepted into the inner circle.”
“It’s ironic his predecessor resigned the day after the election, claiming his beliefs did not allow him to serve under a homosexual. Director Erickson will be the first out gay man to head the agency.”
Whoever had the remote control muted the sound when three raps on the door preceded the appearance of a man dressed in chef’s whites pushing a beverage cart into the room.
“Uncle Tank! Uncle Tank!” Davenport rushed to embrace the stocky man he acknowledged as his favorite uncle. The fact Tanix Janda, who attended culinary school while working as a bartender and bar manager and later became a pastry shop owner always brought the youngest Abelló edible treats may have influenced the kid’s opinion. “Did you make me flan?”
“Hi, Davey. No flan right now, buddy. But I brought hot cocoa for everyone.” Tank reached underneath the top shelf and retrieved a bag hidden beneath a linen napkin. “And I have miniature marshmallows to put in yours. As for the flan, since your dad hired me to work in the White House’s kitchen, I promise I’ll make it at least once a week.” The man looked up to see both CJ and Owen smiling at him. “Hey! There’s Ritch on the screen. He doesn’t look too happy.”
CJ chuckled. “Yeah, my little brother’s all pissed off at his commanding officer. His temporary transfer to the Pentagon was just made permanent. He’s not thrilled about flying a desk full-time.”
“Did you have anything to do with that?”
“Don’t look at me! I explained the same thing to him: I’m not yet President, so I don’t have that much pull.”
“You’re so full of crap, Ceej.” Liebe helped herself to one of the steaming mugs. “You can’t think it’s a coincidence he was promoted and transferred a few days after your election. At least Aunt Lucy’s happy to be back in Washington. And I think it’s pretty cool they get to live in our house while you’re President. Aurora’s all excited about taking over my bedroom, but Falcon still hasn’t decided which room he wants on the boys’ floor.”
“I’m glad they moved too!” Davenport blew on his drink before bringing the mug to his lips. “I think it’s great. I have all my cousins in town now. It’ll be fun having everyone at the White House on Sunday nights for Chinese food.”
“There’s Aba!” Roosevelt’s shout was rewarded with a hard backslap by Jefferson. “She looks good.” Their great-grandmother’s wheelchair had been placed on the inside edge of the first row; CJ had insisted she have the best seat in the house. “Fuck protocol and tradition. My inauguration, my way. Either my grandmother gets preferred seating, or we do this behind closed doors.” Sebastián and Rosario Abelló had not lived long enough to see their grandson’s election, but the octogenarian Olga Santos was still going strong. The wheelchair was a convenience and not necessary at all times.
“I’m sure Uncle Ritch didn’t mind you getting elected when his request to fly to Miami was approved so fast.” Liebe had paid closer attention to the transition goings on than her brothers. She laughed at the Air Force officer’s reaction when his request for time off to charter a private jet, fly to Miami, and bring his grandmother to Washington for the inauguration was approved in record time. “He always looks hot in his uniform.”
“Liebe! That’s your uncle. You do not refer to him as hot.”
“Screw that! I have the hottest fathers and uncles in the world. All my girlfriends think you guys are DILFs. You have any idea how many of them have that picture of all twelve of you at the pool showing off the matching Squad tattoos? Wait until they see the grandfathers all dressed up today. Grandpa Brett looked great in his dress blues. Too bad Uncle Tank and Uncle Brad don’t get to wear their uniforms.”
“Or us! I can’t wait until Jeffer and I get to wear ours. We’re gonna look like studsss.”
“Spare me, little brother. You two better not turn into snobs, or I’ll tell the dads to root for Army and Air Force when football season comes around.”
“Ha! Roo’s right, we’re gonna look hot. Ceej’s gonna have to act all impartial because he’s Commander-in-Chief, but we know who he’ll be rooting for. Even more during rugby matches when we get our chance to play.”
“Okay, everyone.” Carson’s voice cut through the various conversations. “Let’s get this show on the road. Overcoats and gloves on. Liebe, Davey, you go first. Jeffer and Roo, you follow six steps behind. Your dads will walk down when you’re all seated. Remember to smile.”
“And don’t pick your noses!” As usual, CJ had the last word.
"I, César Marcos Abelló, Jr. do solemnly affirm…” CJ glanced at his hand resting atop Owen’s leather-bound copy of the Constitution and Declaration of Independence. He had given it to the Aussie as a graduation present from law school so many years before. He raised his gaze and gave his husband a nearly imperceptible wink when their eyes met.
“…that I will faithfully execute the Office of President of the United States…” He repeated the words Chief Justice Obama read without the need to pay close attention; he knew the oath by heart and had even practiced it the previous day in front of his husband, daughter, and sons.
“…and will to the best of my ability, preserve, protect and defend…” He tried to maintain his composure and not shed the tears threatening to escape; there were millions of people watching in the United States and around the world. After all, he was the youngest, the first Hispanic, the first out gay man, the first Floridian, and the first resident of the District of Columbia elected to the highest office in the land.
“…the Constitution of the United States.” The thunderous response made it hard for him to hear the congratulations uttered by the Chief Justice. CJ smiled and turned to kiss Owen after scanning the faces of friends and relatives sitting in the stands.
He was about to retrieve the hard copy of his inaugural address when Liebe, Jefferson, Roosevelt, and Davenport surrounded him and would not set him free until he had kissed each of them. Facing the massed crowd gathered on the National Mall, he unfolded his speech and ignored the teleprompters.
Welcome to the discussion thread for CJ’s series.
All things CJ are fair game, I simply ask you be respectful of others.
I will actively participate in the discussion. Ask questions, speculate about what’s coming, or bitch about what happened.
We’re now open for business!